Dove has often been praised for its beauty inclusive ads. They partnered with Shonda Rhimes to celebrate real beauty; they have ads that feature all skin colours and body types, and they champion everyday women as brand ambassadors, as opposed to air-brushed celebrities. Unfortunately, the company missed the mark with its latest campaign released in the US on Saturday. The ad depicts a black woman, a white woman, and an Asian woman removing nude coloured shirts and morphing into one another. From the screenshots, it would appear as though the black woman was the ‘before’ and the white woman was the ‘after’ shot.
Complaints that the ad was tone-deaf and racist began appearing on social media, leading to the commercial being pulled and an apology from the brand.
Lola Ogunyemi — the black model who stars in the commercial however — is looking at things from both perspectives.
In an opinion piece, Ogunyemi told The Guardian that she was thrilled when she was invited to appear in the company’s new campaign. “Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued.”
“If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior, or as the “before” in a before and after shot, I would have been the first to say an emphatic “no”. I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for,” she continues, before highlighting her actual experience with the beauty brand.
“However, the experience I had with the Dove team was positive. I had an amazing time on set. All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.” She goes on to say that all the women involved were excited by the concept.
Though Ogunyemi believes that the public’s initial outrage was justified, and feels that advertisers need to look beyond the surface and consider the impact of an ad’s imagery, especially when it comes to marginalized groups of women, she also feels like a lot of the story was left out. “The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.”
The model commends Dove for apologizing, but notes that the company could have also done more to explain their initial vision for the ad. “While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologize for any offense caused, they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign. I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.”